Thursday 29 January 2015

Panel 10: The Wicked + The Divine

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel 10: The Wicked + The Divine

Last time I added Orbital Comics, the comic book store in Great Newport Street to my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London.

This time, Orbital Comics are joining my tour with a great recommendation for a London-set comic book – The Wicked + The Divine by Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.

In terms of location I am delighted to say that we're heading London transpontine – I am that most derided of Londoners: a South Londoner trapped in a North Londoner's body. One day they'll make documentaries, maybe even a comic book, about my kind.

The Wicked + The Divine kicks off in Brockley, SE4, an area of London that was part of Kent until the 1880s…

The Brockley Jack Theatre can be found there, housed in a Victorian Pub. Spike Milligan lived in Brockley when he first arrived in this country from India. The entertainers Marie Lloyd and Lily Langtry both lived in the area. And it is currently home to one of London's most informative blogs Brockley Central – – the liveliness of the blog being very much a reflection of the vibrancy of the area.

This vibrancy aside, Brockley remains a contrastingly prosaic launch pad for such a fantastical tale.

The Wicked + The Divine is a fantasy in which the gods return to earth every 90 years. In the 21st Century their special abilities see them treated as both super heroes and as celebrities. What ensues is a great mix of chaos and smart commentary on 21st century fame and power.

There seems to be something in the ether at the moment with comic books and gods. It's a natural fit, of course: didn't Prometheus steal fire from the Gods to help mankind at great personal risk to himself? What's that if not classic superhero behaviour?

And on the same comic book racks of 2015 where we pick up The Wicked + The Divine, we can also find God Is Dead (there's ol' Nietzsche again, 'e popped up earlier in another Kieron Gillen work featured in this tour, Über, read that post HERE). God is Dead (Avatar Press) is a spectacularly bloody look at what might happen if the gods of all creeds and cultures and eras all came back at once to claim the earth for their own. Much less bloody is The Life After, in which Ernest Hemmingway leads us on a tour of an "alternative heaven", an after life for suicides (as I blog, issue no.6 of The Life After is out this week v. exciting, another trip to Orbital is in the offing.)

I'm tempted to speculate that the modern comic book writer seems compelled to help the 21st Century reader fill the belief-shaped space vacated by organised religion…

It's certainly the case that god is on our minds – as I keep pointing out in reference to the timing of this blog, we live in a world where people who draw pictures get killed in His name.

The crime writer Ian Rankin once observed that prize-winning literary fiction often tends to be set in the past, while crime writers address the issues of contemporary society. The same could be said of the modern comic book (no coincidence that Rankin himself turned to authoring illustrated fiction in his post-Inspector Rebus years). If historians 100 years hence want to know how we lived – and what we feared – at the start of the 21st Century they would do well to look at our comic books.

Jamie McKelvie's artwork (the colourist is Matthew Wilson) for The Wicked + The Divine is seductive. His style always makes me think of the music of Erik Satie: like Satie's piano pieces, McKelvie's lines at first appear calm, almost obedient. Yet within that calmness lurks the potential for theatrical shock and drama. The clean lines lure the reader into a false sense of security and when the narrative takes its regular hyper-real turns, the drama is heightened as the hitherto peaceful drawings burst into life.

The crisp naturalism of the drawings is the perfect companion to the wild narrative flights of Gillen, a writer (as we have already scene with Über) of great imaginative gifts. For older readers such as I, Gillen is impressive in that he is a writer totally at home in his milieu, comfortable in his own writerly skin. Not at any point does he have to big-up the medium, to explain that comic books are capable of carrying a meaningful tale. Both writer and artist also work for the mighty Marvel comics. And Marvel is lucky to have them.

Brockley is the starting point for the narrative but we range all over London, from Homerton to The Strand. The old tube station on The Strand is one of my favourite pages in The Wicked + The Divine so far…

I love the lettering (by Clayton Cowles) descending the page as the characters break in to the disused tube station.

The Wicked + The Divine is an ongoing series and the first five issues are collected in The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act, on sale now…

… writer Kieron Gillen is appearing at Orbital Comics for a signing on 7th February 2015. Full details HERE.

 Visit The Wicked + The Divine website at

We'll bring you more recommendations from Orbital Comics soon, as well as D.C Thomson in Fleet Street, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as our Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London continues…

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